I live in Chattanooga, TN. There’s a lot to love about this area. Chattanooga has enjoyed national coverage of our revitalized downtown in the last few years. Living here means having access to gorgeous woodlands, rivers, creeks, trails, and farmland but also access to great restaurants, theaters, coffeehouses, museums, public parks, shops and other conveniences and pleasures of a busy downtown. Most people who live here know that in the 1960s, Chattanooga was named one of the dirtiest cities in the country by the EPA but now is recognized as an example of how to clean up. We have a long way to go toward being green enough or sustainable enough–whatever enough is.
Most of the changes to our city began with a “visioning process” called Vision 2000 and organized by a non-profit called Chattanooga Venture, founded in 1984. A group of politicians and business people and regular citizens got together and drew up a plan for what they wanted Chattanooga to look like. The result is a downtown that is nice for the people who live here and that attracts tourists. As happens sometimes, the whole thing snowballed and success brought more success and neighborhoods revitalized one by one. The process is still continuing today, but we are now facing new opportunities and challenges.
A little over a year ago, VW announced that they would be building a new automotive plant in Chattanooga. Obviously, this is good news in terms of jobs and economic development. VW is the most often mentioned because it is the largest but several other companies are coming, too: Alstom Power, Gestamp Corporation, and Wacker Chemie, as well as others. Along with wonderful opportunities come challenges.
Like all cities, Chattanooga faces some problems. Budget issues. Public service scandals. Public education. Homelessness. Poverty. Sprawl. Gentrification. It would be nice to imagine that all of the economic development and jobs would create a “natural” cure to all those public ills, but that is simply not realistic. Instead, each problem could potentially intensify because of new industry. Our population will likely grow and more people mean more problems. If property values rise because more people are competing to buy, some families will no longer be able to afford to pay taxes on their homes, there will be more children to educate, our police, fire and sanitation departments will all feel the stress of increased demand on their services.
All of that is not to mention taming our carbon footprint, protecting our natural areas, encouraging sustainable growth, improving and encouraging local food production, etc., etc. So, like towns all over the country, Chattanooga has plenty of issues facing it. Enter Chattanooga STAND. STAND is another visioning effort. It was begun by a fairly small group, funded by foundations and individuals, and seeks to involve the entire population of the area. STAND aims to collect answers to a four question survey from 25,000 area residents. The questions are simple enough for children to answer and vague enough to allow people some room for interpretation. They are:
1. What do you like about the Chattanooga region?
2. Imagine the best possible Chattanooga. Describe it.
3. What challenges must be addressed?
4. What actions, big or small, can you take to help?
The collected answers to the survey questions will be entered into a database, coded, then the information will be made available to whoever wants it. The goal is to make the concerns and preferences of the residents of Chattanooga known and help spur residents, politicians and businesses to be involved in solving the problems we face together. Call me naive, but this seems like a great thing. I am being invited to contribute my opinion, and my opinion is going to be documented and used to create a plan for the city I live in.
If you live in or around Chattanooga and would like to be part of a plan for our future, go to ChattanoogaStand.com and take a Stand. Voice your opinion. Allow it to be recorded and counted. It is probably the easiest, least time-consuming way to be civically active.